Supporting SEN in Early Years

Special Educational Needs and Disability SEND Guidance



Supporting SEN in Early Years – Special Educational Needs

Recent research reveals that there has been a dramatic rise in the number of children with special educational needs at nursery so it is essential that we as early years providers are aware of our responsibilities and can fully support the children in our care.

In this video we will go over some strategies we can use to support children in our care, how and when to make a referral and other important information regarding SEN like what is an EHC plan.

But before we get started, welcome to the channel…

Intro Vid

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Today we are going over how we can better support our SEN children in our setting.

But first, what is SEN?

SEND is defined in the SEND Code of Practice (2015) as “A child or young person has SEND if they have a learning difficulty which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her. A child of compulsory school age or a young person has a learning difficulty or disability if he or she:

  • Has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age.
  • Has a disability which prevents or hinders him or her from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream-post 16 institutions.”

Our role as early years providers and nursery practitioners is set out in the EYFS statutory Framework.

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Framework requires all early years providers to have arrangements in place to support children with SEN or disabilities and provide parents with information on this. Settings must promote equality of opportunity for children in their care and all providers who are funded by the local authority to deliver early education places must have regard to the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice. The EYFS also states that maintained nursery schools must identify a member of staff to act as Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) and other providers in group provision are expected to do so.

All those who work with young children should be alert to emerging difficulties and respond early. In particular, parents know their children best and it is important that all practitioners listen and understand when parents express concerns about their child’s development. They should also listen to and address any concerns raised by children themselves.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Code of Practice builds on the EYFS Framework and sets out that all providers must have:

  • arrangements in place to support children with SEN or disabilities
  • a clear policy on identifying and responding to children with SEN, with early identification a priority. (A model policy is available here.)

Maintained nursery schools must:

  • ensure that children with SEN gets the support they need
  • ensure that children with SEN engage in activities alongside children who do not have SEN
  • designate a teacher to be responsible for co-ordinating SEN provision (the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO))
  • inform parents when they are making special educational provision for a child.

They must also prepare a report on:

  • the implementation of their SEN policy
  • their arrangements for the admission of disabled children
  • the steps being taken to prevent disabled children from being treated less favourably than others
  • the facilities provided to enable access to the school for disabled children
  • their accessibility plan showing how they intend to improve access over time.

Early years providers must work closely with parents and provide information on how they support children with SEN and disabilities, regularly reviewing and evaluating the quality and breadth of the support they offer or can access. Providers must also work in partnership with the local authority (LA) and other services or specialists where required.

All early years providers must also meet the requirements in the Equality Act 2010 by promoting equality of opportunity for disabled children, providing inclusive practice and making reasonable adjustments including aids to prevent disadvantage.

How do we Identify and Assess Needs?

Recognising SEND in early childhood is pivotal, as these are the years in which children are more impressionable and start to develop. This is why SEND is such an important topic to be knowledgeable on as an early years practitioner. As someone who works with children, you should be alert and aware of difficulties that some children may face in relation to SEND. In doing so, you can respond to early concerns to assist in the support of children with SEND.

Early identification and action are seen as critical to a child’s future progress and outcomes.

There are two formal progress checks that practitioners should be undertaking to see how children are developing and help us to identify children who have potential SEN, they are the:

  • Progress check at age two
  • Assessment at the end of the EYFS.

Though, Early years practitioners should monitor and review the progress and development of all children throughout the early years. There should be an ongoing assessment of children’s development and providers should not wait for formal progress checks to identify any concerns.

When assessing children there are four main areas that we should be looking at that will give rise to a concern. Delays in communication and interaction; cognition and learning; social, emotional and mental health; and sensory and/or physical needs.

It is important to remember that children may have specific needs that cover more than one of these areas, or needs that change over time.

A delay in learning and development in the early years does not necessarily mean that a child has SEN. However, if practitioners or parents have concerns, there should be an assessment to determine whether there are factors such as an underlying learning or communication difficulty.

Our approach to supporting needs

This assessment forms the first part in a four stage approach to supporting those with SEN as set out in the SEND Code of Practice.

These four stages are:

  1. Assess – as we’ve mentioned assess the child’s development and needs. Include parents and the child where age and stage appropriate. Do you need to seek more specialist help from health, social services or other agencies?
  2. Plan – Agree what strategies, interventions and support are required. Do staff or parents/carers need any information or training? Include a date for reviewing plans and progress.
  3. Do – Implement the plan and observe the child’s response to the action taken.
  4. Review – Review the effectiveness of the support and the impact has there been on the child’s progress. Reviews should include the key person, SENCO, parents and the views of the child, including any agreed changes to outcomes and support.

This process needs to become a regular cycle, identifying the most appropriate way of ensuring the child is making good progress, including seeking further specialist help if required.

Strategies for Helping Children with SEND in Early Years

Having strategies in place is an essential part of supporting children with SEND. Some things you can do to support your children is to:

  • Keep your knowledge up to date – be aware of different types of SEND, and how to support children based on the best advice and evidence. 
  • Develop high-quality universal provision – this is essential for children with SEND, but also hugely benefits all children. This covers the learning environment, high-quality teaching and interactions, questioning, planning, differentiation, and personalised learning. Developing high-quality universal provision reduces the need for future targeted provision (such as interventions). 
  • Focus on inclusive practice – a learning environment which makes changes and modifications will reduce barriers to learning. Children will need different levels and types of support in order to achieve their potential. Ensure that children with SEND are included with other children who do not have SEND. 
  • Improve interactions with the child – allowing the child to take the lead ensures they feel their efforts are valued and important. Show them that you will always respond – even if they’re not saying any words you can understand. Use descriptive commentary, to provide a gentle running commentary on what the child is doing and what is happening in the situation. 
  • Responding to concerns – if you have concerns, look at the child’s development in more detail and compare with typical development ages and stages. 
  • Develop effective and supportive partnerships with parents – communicate regularly, involve them with decisions about support and signpost parents to further support. 

Requesting further support

Hopefully, after implementing this support, we should start to see some progress in the child.

But, what if we don’t?

This is where your setting will look for outside support.

Where a child continues to make less than expected progress, despite evidence-based support and interventions that are matched to the child’s area of need, practitioners should consider involving appropriate specialists. These might include health visitors, educational psychologists, speech and language therapists, etc who may be able to identify effective strategies, equipment, or interventions to enable the child to make progress towards their learning and development outcomes.

The decision to involve specialists should always be taken in partnership with the child’s parents. Where the child has not made expected progress despite the provision having taken relevant action to identify, assess and meet the special educational needs of the child, the provision should consider requesting an EHC needs assessment.

An EHC (education, health and care)  plan identifies educational, health and social needs and sets out the additional support to meet those needs including specified outcomes for the child.

The LA will decide whether an EHC assessment is necessary following a consultation with the child’s parents and will give its decision within six weeks of receiving the request.

There will always be support that your local authority can give to your setting and you can find this out by looking at your local authorities ‘Local Offer’.

The local offer provides clear, detailed, accessible, and up-to-date information about the provision available and how it can be accessed (including eligibility criteria)  and allows the local authority to respond to local needs and see where gaps in the provision are by directly involving children and young people with SEND and their parents or carers.

On the local offer you can access information on:

  • SEN, learning support and sensory support services
  • area SENCOs, specialists and therapies
  • at home support available to families.

Practitioners can also find out about local strategic arrangements including arrangements for:

  • identifying and assessing children’s needs in the early years
  • providing top-up funding for children with high needs
  • EHC needs assessments and plans.

Using this approach we should be able to give the children in our care the support they need.

Though, some key take aways you should note are, that you should:

  • Make sure that information is provided to parents about how children with SEN and disabilities are supported
  • Ensure staff receive regular training on their duties under the SEND framework
  • place children and parents at the centre of any SEN provision and decision-making
  • regularly review and evaluate the support on offer as well as review any policies and procedures with regards to SEN
  • work together with other services to secure the support and interventions that will help the child achieve the best outcomes
  • ensure that all approaches and interventions are evidence based and focus on outcomes for children rather than processes
  • work in partnership with the LA on the Local Offer and where necessary on EHC assessments and plans
  • support effective transitional planning and arrangements for children with SEN.

That is how we can better support Special Educational Needs in Early Years,  I hope you have found this video useful and I hope it will be useful in improving your practice.

If you did find it useful do hit that like button and if you have any further questions drop me a message in the comments section.

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God Bless.


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